Scotsman Obituaries: Theodora di Marco, popular Scottish-born salonista

Theodora di Marco, salonista. Born: 14 October 1925 in Edinburgh. Died: 17 August 2021 in London, aged 95

Theodora di Marco welcomed artists to her home for decades

Theodora di Marco, a popular, long-established Notting Hill salonista, who was born and bred in Edinburgh, died peacefully at her London home on 17 August, leaving behind a large and sorrowful group of friends and habitues of her regular Sunday night soirees.

Born in Edinburgh on 14 October 1925, daughter of an Italian restaurant owner and confectioner, Theo and her siblings – including identical twin Norma – were well known in local cultural circles for their musical talent.

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Theo played the viola and Norma became a professional cello player and helped to found the Edinburgh Chamber Orchestra. Theo was particularly close to her Edinburgh cousin, celebrated artist and promoter of the visual and performing arts Richard Demarco, CBE.

After graduating from Edinburgh University, the sisters taught in private schools in Switzerland and Oxford.

In 1953 Theo became a nun, joining the closed order of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity in Edinburgh's St Peter's Convent, while Norma moved to London, continuing to professionally play the cello while becoming first the editor of Middle East Transport and then a public relations executive for the Arab British Chamber of Commerce.

Theo joined her in London in 1983 when the convent closed due to an insufficient number of nuns, and the twins were soon jointly hosting regular soirees at their Pembridge Road townhouse which they painted bright orange with yellow trim, reputedly inspired by artist Frida Kahlo's home in Mexico City (and somewhat to the dismay of some of their more conventional neighbours).

Sometimes the gathering was a musical evening consisting of a string quartet with Norma on the cello and Theo on the viola. More often it consisted of a creative cacophony of conversation between a huge variety of guests, sometimes collected on impulse by the sisters. Meanwhile, the sisters went on occasional travel-writing jaunts around Europe and elsewhere.

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Later they moved to smaller premises nearby and when the more socially dominant Norma died in 2009 it was assumed Theo would choose to pursue a more solitary life.

Far from it – not only did she continue to enjoy reading, playing bridge and attending concerts and the theatre, she was soon on the phone summoning the salon habitues to evening gatherings, usually on a Sunday. The reason might be that one of the group was in London to perform at a concert, had just written a book or returned from a long sojourn in some exotic place.

Food and wine would miraculously appear from sources unknown and the conversation would flow about subjects as varied as the relative merits of classical composers and the newest West End play to little-known facts about some obscure historic figure or how to keep meat fresh in the midst of the Moroccan desert.

Then, enhanced by a streak of scarlet, lavender or emerald in her grey hair and perhaps a flamboyant scarf, Theo would suddenly intervene by introducing another quite unrelated subject.

Richard Demarco told the Edinburgh Evening News that Theo’s love of music along with her “feisty” spirit shone through right to the end.

He said: “She kept up the viola. Theo had this tremendous energy. Though she was a twin she was a one off. She had a robust intellect, curious about everything and took no prisoners. People were pulled in by her conversation. She would come out with unexpected comments. She broke every rule book in life.”

“It was impossible to believe that I was speaking to someone older than 90. Everything about her was outrageous, her dress sense and the dyed pink hair.

"To me she was a walking work of art. As she put it, she was like a boxer. She’d say you had to be ready to defend yourself but not afraid to land a punch. Beyond a tough exterior she was incredibly warm and generous.

"Though they came from an Italian, Roman Catholic family, Theo and Norma both lived out in the wider world.”

He added: "Theo once sent me a cheque out of the blue and told me she was always there to help. She was always on my side. But she would keep me on my toes too. She’d tease me for spelling our family name the French way, saying I was ‘in disguise’.

"She was so feisty and refused to live like an old person. She enjoyed her long life. I remember meeting up when she came to Edinburgh a few years ago. She was wearing pink Crocs. She told my younger brother to live life like each day is a gift and a blessing. She never lost that spark.

"I will miss her. She gives me hope for the human condition.”

Only a few days after hosting one of her evening soirees, Theo died peacefully in her sleep, a glass of Madeira by her side, a bouquet of flowers delivered by an admirer nearby.

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